Govt. Halts Secret Shopper Health Probe

Wednesday, 29 Jun 2011 11:43 AM

By Martin Gould

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The Obama administration has canceled a “secret shopper” plan aimed at investigating primary care doctors after complaints that the scheme amounted to government snooping.

The “Big Brother” program was announced without fanfare two months ago and had been going smoothly until a New York Times article on Monday stirred outrage.

“After reviewing feedback received during the public comment period, we have determined that now is not the time to move forward with this research project,” the Department of Health and Human Services announced late Tuesday, Politico reported.

“Instead, we will pursue other initiatives that build on our efforts to increase access to health care providers nationwide.”

Republican Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois led protests about the program, demanding more details about the program from HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. He praised her decision to kill the program. “The survey is duplicative of what we already know and funding should be spent solving problems, not studying them,” he said.

Family doctors quoted in the Times story were unanimous in criticizing the program. Dr. George Petruncio, of Turnersville, N.J., said, “This is not a way to build trust in government. Why should I trust someone who does not correctly identify himself?”

And Dr. Stephen Albrecht, from Olympia, Wash., added, “If federal officials are worried about access to care, they could help us. They don’t have to spy on us.”

The Times pointed to a study by the Massachusetts Medical Society that found that 53 percent of family doctors were not accepting new patients and those that did had an average 36-day waiting period to get an initial appointment.

HHS spokesman Christian Stenrud said administration access to primary care was a priority for the government. He said the plan, in which an army of supposed patients would call more than 4,000 doctors in nine states, would help the government “make sure we are doing everything we can to support primary care physicians, especially in communities where the need is greatest.”





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